Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where have you Gone Matrix?

Weekends during Blast Furnace members early through mid 20’s always consisted of venturing out to all of the hotspots around Pittsburgh.  Whether it was the Southside, Oakland, Shadyside, Strip District, or near our home-base in the South Hills we always found the right place to have fun.  One Friday evening we headed to Station Square.  At this point in time we had been to Margarita Momma’s a few times, but were getting tired of paying the cover charge and being around the meathead crowd that frequented the establishment.  As we wondered around the complex, a gentleman was sitting near Margarita Momma’s handing out passes for free entry into the Matrix. We were all aware of the Matrix, it had been open for several years and was previously known as Rock Jungle, but we had never entered the place so we decided to give it a try.

Of course being such a high-class and popular hotspot there was a line that stretched down the steps and onto the sidewalk before being admitted.  We were directed into the Salsa room (Velvet), one of the four themed bars of the Matrix.  As we made our way to the bar we noticed that the Friday Matrix special was $0.50 mixed drinks from 10pm-12am.  We made sure to oblige and indulge, ordering two or three 8 oz plastic cups at a time. Two projection TVs were placed above the bar playing old black and white Latin nudie films (not porn or anything just some classy ladies having some fun dancing) and there was a very attractive girl salsa dancing on top of the bar. Patrons were mesmerized by this stunning display.  After consuming as many watered down drinks as humanly possible before the 12am deadline we checked out what the other bars had to offer.

The techno bar (Liquid) was connected to the Salsa room so that made the most sense as the next bar to visit.  Black lights adorned the bar and dance floor and the pounding of the bass in the techno music made the room vibrate.  Weirdos were dancing aimlessly to the beats while waving glow sticks in the air.  This was the least popular bar at Matrix, but it had its advantages, no drink line and an oxygen bar.  Of course we headed straight for the oxygen bar.  Besides breathing it in on a secondary basis no one in the group had ever done oxygen recreationally before.  So we sat down and were hooked up to a nasal tube and paid $6.00 for five minutes of pure oxygen refreshment.  To abbreviate the experience, it was a pretty invigorating.  After being annoyed by the pulsating music we headed to the 80’s room.

The 80’s room quickly became our favorite; the music brought us back to our elementary school days, when life was simple. Two bars were placed on opposite sides of the room to accommodate the crowd.  This gave the Blast Furnace their first chance to get on the dance floor.  1980 staples such as Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” whipped everyone into a frenzy.  All of a sudden we look up and notice a crowd surrounding a middle-aged man who is twirling himself in a circle to Dead or Alive’s hit single “You Spin Me Round. This gentleman was really getting into the groove and was literally dancing by himself.  This performance really energized the patrons and he continued dancing well into the wee hours of the morning eventually working himself into a sweaty mess.  We came to learn that this man worked as a vendor at Heinz Field and PNC Park and danced every weekend at the Station Square club.  He is now known to us as ‘Matrix Man’ or the ‘Vendor’ depending on the situation. Seeing him climbing the stairs at Heinz Field Pills or I would call out to him, “hey Matrix Man, are you going to be dancing at the Matrix tonight?” He would respond with a resounding “yes” and continue on proudly with the beverage tray in hand.  After having enough entertainment in the 80’s room we entered the Hip Hop/Top 40 room (Goddess).

Goddess was the place that you went to get your grind on.  The top songs at the time were Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back,” Chamillionaire’s “Ridin’,” and Sean Paul’s “Temperature” (wow, looking back these songs really sucked and didn’t have much staying power) were blaring out of the speakers. This room was very crowded, had the best looking girls, and was the weekend broadcasting spot for Kiss 96.1 FM.  The hip hop bar was a breeding ground for meatheads and ‘g’s’.  Although two bars were located here, they were too crowded to even bother waiting in line.  The group quickly decided to make a return stop to the 80’s and Salsa room before heading home.  As 2:00am arrived we were hustled out of the club by “security” and we were definitely satisfied with our decision to spend the evening at the Matrix.

The Matrix offered something for everyone; it was a place where recent college grads, average people, forty-something divorcees, alcoholics, and the aforementioned meatheads and ‘g’s’ could go to have fun.  As weekends approached our steady group of eight made a conscious effort to go to the Matrix.  This was a place where we spent many New Year’s Eves and Halloweens and brought guests from foreign countries to visit.  There was always a chance you could see a fight, a celebrity appearance like “Saved by the Bell’s” Screech, or a guy passed out drunk sitting on a toilet seat naked in an open bathroom stall.
Sadly, in January 2010 the Matrix was shut down due to ownership's failure to pay taxes.  Chalk that up as another Blast Furnace haunt that is no longer alongside Cumpies (now Garage Door Saloon in Oakland), Johnny’s Place (Oakland), the Firehouse (Strip District), and the Rhythm House (Bridgeville).  A new club named Carson Street Live opened in the spring of 2011, but it has nothing on the Matrix.  The day the doors were shut our twenty’s had died.  Unfortunately Blast Furnace members were a bit too young to experience legendary Pittsburgh clubs Donzi’s and Chauncey’s and were briefly able to loaf at Tequila Willies in the Strip District before it floated down the river on a barge, but the Matrix was where us early 80's babies got our feet wet.  The Matrix may not have the lasting recognition as some of the previously named bars, but it will always have a special place in our hearts.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Have You Seen This Man?

Aliases:  Matrix Man, The Vendor, Dancing Matrix guy
Sex:  Male
Race:  White/Caucasian
Height:  Approximately 6'2"
Weight: Approximately 240 lbs
Hair:  Brown
Eyes:  Brown
Distinguishing Features:  Mustache, mop top hair cut

Occupation:  Vendor at Heinz Field and PNC Park

Last Seen:  Late 2009/January 2010 dancing in the 80's room at the Matrix club located in Station Square - Pittsburgh, PA. 

If you have information on this man's whereabouts please contact the Blast Furnace: pghblastfurnace@gmail.com.  We are looking forward to dancing with him one more time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another Rapper from the Burgh Emerges

Move over Wiz Khalifa Pittsburgh has a new budding rap star.  Point Breeze native Mac Miller aka Malcolm McCormick is set to release his debut album "Blue Slide Park" on Rostrum Records this fall.  The 19-year old Taylor Allderdice High School graduate's first single titled "Frick Park Market" is approaching 2.5 million views on youtube.  The song's title is in reference to a little market located in Point Breeze that Miller has frequented since he was a young child.  The hit video was shot in Pittsburgh at the neighborhood store, Blue Side Park, and Lawrenceville's Ice House Studios. 

The spotlight is nothing new to the local artist as he has shared the stage with Young Jeezy and fellow Allderdice alum Wiz Khalifa in the past.  Donald Trump has even compared Mac Miller to Eminem after the rapper's video "Donald Trump" surpassed 20 million youtube views.   

South Hills Giant Eagle adds Beer

Giant Eagle to add Beer

Starting Wednesday, the Giant Eagle located in Bethel Park will begin selling beer.  According to the Tribune Review, Giant Eagle began selling brews back in 2009 at licensed locations, with a focus on craft brews. 

Personally, I have been to the Cranberry Giant Eagle, where they have been selling beer for a while.  It is really great if you are a craft beer enthusiast, as most of the beer offered comes from microbreweries.  In fact, the whole refrigerated area at the Cranberry location only offers craft brews - check out the variety offered.  The list offers micros from all across the nation, not just the locals.

I visit the Bethel Park Giant Eagle quite often, and have seen them clearing a large area in anticipation of the beer shop.  It is a little larger than the area at Cranberry, but only by a little.  As long as it offers the same type of micros as the Cranberry location, this beer shop should do quite well.

What remains to be seen is the impact it will have on other bottle shops, such as Barley & Hops nearby.  In my opinion, it will not hurt that much, as the people who already visit the bottle shops will not stop going just because they offer some craft brews at Giant Eagle.  Rather, it may increase the volume at the bottle shops as the Giant Eagle will introduce people to micros, and get these people more interested in craft beers.  As this interest increases, so will the traffic to the bottle shops, as the bottle shops offer a much wider variety.

The Giant Eagle at Robinson also has beer available for sale. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cuzamil Restaurante Mexicano: 'Lo Maximo' for Mexican Food

It has been a while since my last restaurant review and I want to share one of my favorites in the Pittsburgh area, Cuzamil Restaurante Mexicano. Cuzamil is genuine, authentic Mexican cuisine at it's best. Cuzamil has two locations one at 2109 Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill and the other located at 500 Liberty Avenue just on the outside of Market Square between Wendy's and McDonalds. Both locations offer the same excellent menu leaving me more than satisfied each time that I have eaten there. If you are planning a trip be advised that the downtown location is open for lunch from 11 AM until 2 PM while the Squirrel Hill location offers hours from 11:30 AM until 10 PM. In addition, the Squirrel Hill location has a full bar while downtown does not have any alcoholic beverages.

Onto the good stuff...the food. Regardless of which location you choose to dine at you are sure to taste the best Mexican food in the area at a bargain price. All of the courses come with a complimentary serving of homemade chips and salsa that are delicious to pick at before ordering or if you simply go in for drinks. The main courses come complete with rice, your choice of beans, and usually another side of pico de gallo or guacamole. Most recently I ate the 'tamales' which were made to perfection, had a kick of spice (but not too much that they could not be enjoyed), and left my mouth watering for more. The fajitas are another option in which your order can never go wrong and come with a spice and seasoning that can't be compared to your run of the mill factory Mexican restaurants. One interesting dish that I ate at the recommendation of my friendly waitress was the shrimp quesadilla. I normally do not like seafood to be mixed with my Mexican, but this quesadilla's cheese, vegetables, shrimp, and seasoning changed my opinion and I have ordered it multiple times. No menu item is a bad choice and each time I order I tend to work my way around the menu and repeating only if I am in a rush.

Aside from the food, the bar truly compliments the food. If you want an authentic Mexican experience be sure to order one of Cuzamil's many Mexican beers including Modelo Especial, Carta Blanca, Negra Modela, the traditional Dos Equis and Corona, but my favorite is Bohemia which is a lesser known Mexican beer which is great tasting and comes in a unique presentation. The beer specials are great any day of the week, but if beer is not your thing be sure to drink the best margaritas in Pittsburgh. Cuzamil uses only the best ingredients and offers both frozen and unfrizen which come in many sizes which range from a regular sized drink until the giant 'pecera' which literally means 'fish tank'. The bartender will even remember how much salt you like on your glass. If you sit at the bar you are sure to catch a Latin soccer game playing on their TV's. The environment at both location mimics small town Mexico with traditional music playing and art for people to enjoy while dining.

Although the food and drinks are great it is the hospitality of Cuzamil which keeps people coming back. The owners of Cuzamil are married couple Cindy and Gabino. Cindy is the face of the restaurant as she serves as a waitress and bar tender and is from Peru while Gabino is the main chef and hails from Mexico. This dynamic couple make this restaurant a great place to eat. Not only are the owners part of the success, but their wait staff is as well by being friendly, outgoing, and do their best to make sure the customers have everything they need. Whether I am eating downtown or in Squirrel Hill my drink is always full and a check up is always made to ensure my satisfaction with the food.

Be sure to stop into Cuzamil soon especially since it is being featured as Groupon's Pittsburgh deal selling gift certificates for both locations. After eating at Cuzamil you will never want to eat at a chain Mexican restaurant again. Cuzamil has truly 'muy buena comida' and will keep you coming back for more. Buen provecho!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jersey Shore to Transform the Shores of the Three Rivers

Pittsburghers thought that the city was being transformed to Gotham City, but now the shores of the Three Rivers will no longer be lined with heroes and villains nor the traditional yinzer complete with mullet, fanny pack, Steelers jersey, and cut-off jean shorts. Instead, yinzers will be trading in these character traits for hair gel, tattoos, pristine sneakers, bedazzled t-shirts and jeans, and their largest gold chain in order to welcome DJ Pauly D from MTV's Jersey Shore to the 'Burgh.

How could a summer in Pittsburgh be topped by the Pirates flirting with 1st place and possibly attaining their first above .500 season in close to two decades, The Dark Knight being filmed in the city, and being named the 3rd worst dressed city? The answer simply put is DJ Pauly D ending the summer in true Pittsburgh fashion as he is scheduled to spin records at the Southside's hottest club diesel to celebrate the club's 5th anniversary. Tickets are available for $10 through showclix.com. The event is Friday, August 19 and the doors will open at 9:00 PM.

DJ Pauly D is not making a special stop to Pittsburgh just to spin records at diesel, but is hosting the official Britney Spears after party. In addition, DJ Pauly D was spinning records at Bar Louie in Station Square.

As Pittsburgh claims strong ties to it's Italian heritage let's hope that our own guidos and guidettes do Pittsburgh proud and give Pauly D a chance to love our fair city. So be sure to get the tanning bed, the gym, get your best fist pump ready, and head dahn 'da Southside to celebrate diesel's anniversary with Pauly D.

A Yinzer's Summer Checklist

Summer is quickly winding down and with that all of the fun and excitement that has come to Pittsburgh will soon be ending as people will have their minds focused on the Steelers and the upcoming winter season. I too will have an abrupt end to summer so I thought that I would make a list of a Pittsburgher's vacation in their own city. One quirky characteristic of Pittburghers is that we always like to act as if making a trip to the city is like a cross country trek. With that being said a Pittsburgher is sure to take advantage of the summer vacation season and make their once a year trip to the following destinations.

All of the following are in no particular order and should be done on different days to ensure you got the most out of your day.

The Yinzer's Summer checklist:

Kennywood: A summer tradition, should be done to kick off the season
Sandcastle: Take a day off from work, but not a Friday or Monday you wouldn't want to deal with too many people or traffic
Pirates game: Nothing says Pittsburgh like a night out for a ball game, just make sure it is a promotional night for a bobble head or fireworks
Station Square: Although there is not much to do it is essential to go there and walk around and pick up a Pittsburgh souvenir, if you're lucky you can take the 'T'
Downtown: Again, take a day off because Pittsburgh shuts down at 5pm, make sure you plan accordingly again to avoid traffic and enjoy a restaurant in Market Square
Ride the Inclines to Mount Washington: You may say can't this be combined with going downtown? Of course not, you have to ride up walk to a restaurant, and return in time to beat the traffic.
The Strip District: Even though grocery store prices are comparable it is the event of the Strip that keeps people coming back, stop by Wholey's and Primanti Brothers
Oakland: Walk around to see the museums or the Cathedral
Southside: Be sure to do some daytime drinking and extend it into the night
PPG Zoo: As this is hard to get to from many parts of the city a whole day is needed to enjoy the animals
Regatta: Need I say more?
4th of July Fireworks: Again, need I say more?
Outlet Mall: Grove City or Tanger for a nice day out
Give up on the Pirates: We were lucky that is lasted until the end of July this year
Get your Steelers gear out of the closet: Some may already have it out, but once training camp hits you can now wear it without shame or seeming too anxious
Steelers training camp: No summer is complete without a trip to Latrobe, heck go crazy and rent a hotel for the week... this is vacation!
Watch a pre-season Steelers game: Go ahead admit it Pittsburgh, you say you don't care about the pre-season, but just admit that you want to tailgate or throw a party to watch the black and gold during any season, you were probably breaking down film all summer with your VHS player
Clear out you Sunday schedule: Do I have to explain?

As you can see the theme here revolves around avoiding traffic, having fun at the beginning of summer, and then focusing life around the Steelers. So let us know what you have 'checked-off' this summer or what you would add. It was a great summer...until next year.

Destinations: East End Brewery

Located inside the sampling area.  No signs were visible outside of the brewery.
Last Friday, your PghBlastFurnace made its official visit to the East End Brewery.  And although it was our first to the brewery itself, it will most likely be the last at this location.  That is because the brewery is moving, and will no longer be located in Homewood as of March / April 2012.

This information was delivered by the lone bar keep working the 'bar' inside the brewery.  It is a bar in the literal sense, with a small bar located directly past the entrance, which is also unusual in itself.  This is because it is a microbrewery, and not a brewpub.

Left: The building where the brewery resides. 
Right:  The actual entrance to the brewery.
When we first pulled up to the East End Brewery, only those of us who had visited before knew what to expect.  There is no grand entrance like Anheuser Busch or restaurant area like Penn Brewery; merely a nondescript door left ajar at the bottom of a plain, red building.  Resembling an extremely large barn, it is less than spectacular in appearance.  Absent are any signs of what -- if any -- business resides in the building, and there are no signs advertising the presence of a brewery as visitors drive up the lonely gravel road towards the building.  Once you stumble upon the entrance, it is simple to see why it could be easily overlooked.

Upon entering the brewery, visitors are packed into a small tasting area.  The bar is to the right when entering, and all of the taps are lined up on a refrigerated room behind the bar, where all of the kegs are kept inside.  On the day we were there, eight different delicious varieties were available, along with a ginger ale and root beer for the kids.

Left: The entrance to the refrigerated room for the kegs; the barkeep.
Right:  Taps showing the different varieties available.
All of us took turns sampling every flavor, while the barkeep described the various ways each was crafted.  It was truly amazing how fully flavored each beer tasted.  Each of us had a great time sampling every flavor, and in the end, all of us had a different favorite flavor.  My personal favorite was Big Hop, which is a very hoppy, full tasting beer.  If you still like the bitterness, but not the hoppyness of a full flavored IPA, the Best Dressed Chicken may be the right choice for you.  More of a Stout guy?  The smooth taste of the Black Strap Stout will leave your mouth watering; and the delicious aftertaste will make other stouts seem tasteless.  The hefeweizen 'Monkey Boy' was also great, with a more robust taste than others, and is a favorite of many East End visitors.  Personally I do not like hefeweizen types, but this one tasted great.

Each of the remaining flavors were just as pleasurable as well.  These included: Pedal Pale Ale, Fat Gary Nut Brown Ale, BlueberRye Ale and Chicoree Red.  I could go on at lengths describing the flavors, but in no way would be able to do them justice.  To really understand just how great each craft brew tasted, the experience must be made first hand.  No second hand account is truly sufficient.  Also, each visitor has the opportunity to take home a Growler of their favorite beer.  A Growler holds 64 oz of beer -- a half gallon -- and is priced anywhere from $10 - $15, depending on the beer.  Even after adding the surcharge of $3 for the actual glass bottle, it is still a great deal, and much cheaper than a beer at a bar.  Next time a visitor comes back, the growler can be refilled, and the $3 charge is avoided.

East End Growler filled with beer.  The bottle is clear glass.
After finishing the samples, we were encouraged to look around the brewery.  It doesn't take long to enter the brewing room, because the entrance to the room is about ten feet down the hallway from the bar.  In fact, upon entering the brewery and passing the bar on the right, visitors walk through a small gift shop where they reach the open-air doorway to the brewing room.

Various East End apparel located in the Gift Shop area
The brewing room contains numerous vats, all brewing different varieties of beer.  All of the vats are controlled by a centrally located panel, which is seen below.  There are also many kegs located in the back - some empty, some full - all ready to deliver the beer to its final destination.  Some will go into the refrigerated room for sampling and growler purchasing, which was what brought us to the East End Brewery in the first place.

Vats in Brewing room

Central Area with Control Panel

Kegs ready to go!!
We all had a great time visiting the East End Brewery, and look forward to the many new beers it will brew in its long future.  We also look forward to checking out the new location.  My rating: 5 out of 6 Irons.

What is your favorite???

For more information, visit the East End Brewery website.  Descriptions of each beer are available on the website.  And remember, it's a microbrewery, not a brewpub!

Opportunities to 'invest' in the brewery is also available on the East End website.

East End Brewery is also on Facebook and Twitter.  For more pictures of our journey to the East End Brewery, check out PghBlastFurnace on Facebook.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Beer Review: Oskar Blues variety pack

This month's case is a variety pack from the Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colorado. Their shtick is that they're the premium beer that is sold in a can. If you've been to a beer distributor lately, you've probably at least seen their Dale's Pale Ale. One the one hand, being the only craft beer served in a can makes them stand out. On the other, I put off buying it for a long time because I didn't take the can seriously. That turned out to be a mistake, as this was yet another excellent case of beer.

The variety pack came with three varieties, a six pack of Mama's Little Yella Pils, six Old Chub's Scoth Ale and twelve Dale's Pale Ale.

The Pilsener is what you would hope the Miller's and Bud's of the world would be, but, alas, are not. It's light, yellow and carbonated just like the big boys of the American beer world, but, surprise, has actual flavor, not just the imaginary flavor that only exists in beer commercials. I typically go for stronger flavored, darker beers. I usually reserve Pilsener-types to when I'm playing softball or when I'm eating tacos. That usually means an Iron City on taco night in my house, but when I substituted this beauty instead recently, it took my taco night to a whole new level.

Scotch Ales are my favorite type of beer. This one gets the flavors just right. It's dark, malty and smoky. It's not very heavy, but does leave a lingering aftertaste. I read some reviews that described its carbonation as very light, but I actually think the carbonation could be stepped down. I thought this beer was best enjoyed after dinner when you are planning on just having one brew and taking your time with it.

The Pale Ale wasn't as sharp as what I would have expected. It's got the hoppy flavor of a Pale Ale, but it's almost muted and doesn't stick around very long. Instead, it has a very nice, almost sour malty aftertaste. This a great beer to accompany something like a steak on the grill.

All in all, I was very impressed with this case. I'm always glad when a variety pack contains a wide-ranging variety of flavors. I won't necessarily be running around to grab another case immediately, but it's one I'd come back to when I'm not sure what I'm in the mood for.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Brute Strength on the Big Screen

It has been way too long since my last movie review. That means that I have either been extremely busy or there have not been many movies recently which have peaked my interest. With this hiatus from the theater I am left with little time to complete the summer blockbuster list. I had to choose between Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Captain America: The First Avenger. I preferred to see Captain America first because it has been out longer, but due to time restraints I decided on Rise of the Planet of the Apes starring James Franco, Freida Pinto, and Andy Serkis as the star ape, Caesar.

Just watching the trailer I knew that Rise would be a great summer movie for me to enjoy complete with action, a good story, and the origin theme (which you know I like from my previous reviews). I have never seen the original Planet of the Apes movies from 40 years go nor the 2001 remake, but I was very familiar with the story as most people are. That being said, there was no prep work or studying to do before or after the movie in order to see how Rise fits into the story arc and all questions could be answered based on this knowledge.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes begins in the Genesis bio-tech laboratory where Will Rodman (James Franco) is testing an Alzheimer's drug on apes before human testing begins. This experimentation leads to a some problems, a shut down of the lab, and we are first introduced to Caesar. Rodman and Caesar's relationship grows throughout the movie, but as the two become separated it is clear that lines must be drawn between human and ape. It is interesting to see how both Rodman and Caesar answer this question. In addition, this is the philosophical portion of the movie which asks us to look as ourselves and determine if humans are actually humane or if others species should have that tag line.

Because the movie is about apes there is no unnecessary dialogue and this gives drama and body language the opportunity to tell the story. This is done quite well as I was able to become emotionally involved in the story and also root for the apes throughout the plot. Also, the apes were made very well and the computer animation that was done was done well so that it was not distracting and added entertainment value to the movie.

The movie had an obvious outcome because it is a prequel, but it was crafted impressively and the finale gave everyone some closure. In fact, I thought that the manner in which the apes would rise to power was not what the movie actually had in store for the audience. I won't go any further because I don't want to mention any possible spoilers.

All in all Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a great summer movie that I recommend to all. It has even inspired me to go out and rent the originals from 40 years ago.

Pills gives Rise of the Planet of the Apes 4/5 Irons.

The Round Corner Cantina

Located in Lawrenceville, PA, the Round Corner Cantina is aptly named for its location at the corner of Butler and 38th street.  Visitors to the cantina can come hungry and thirsty, as this venue offers a wide selection of great mexican food and drinks

A few of us visited the Cantina this past Saturday, and were pleased with our visit.  It was to be the final destination of the night as we had already visited several other establishments that evening. 

Walking up to the Cantina, we encountered various locals enjoying their Saturday night by drinking along the street.  Most were in their 50s, and it was easy to tell they were having a good time.  As we walked by, they attempted to engage us in conversation, but it was getting late and we really wanted to get inside.  Had we more time, we definitely would have liked to speak with the locals and hear their stories.  This will have to wait until another time.

The entrance to the Cantina serves well with the name of its location - the main door sits right at the corner of the building, as shown in the picture above.  Upon walking up the three steps to get to the door, we entered into the main interior bar.  It is rectangular in shape, with the bar running the length of the back wall.  The other side has large windows looking out onto Butler street. 

The beer selection has everything you would expect from any bar, but the Cantina specializes in Mexican products.  Negro Modelo, Dos Equis, Tecate and Pacifico are just some of the various Mexican beers on the menu; Negro Modelo being one of my overall favorite beers.  The Corner offers buckets of these beers, five a piece in each bucket, which is a popular selection and frequently ordered by many of the patrons.   We, however, grabbed some Tecates and made our way towards the back of the bar. 

The bar wraps around a cramped corridor until it spills out into a smaller dining room area, an area for people looking to enjoy some dinner.  It offers a more personal, quiet feel for those not interested in hanging in the bar areas.  The food offered runs along the same Mexican and Spanish theme seen throughout the Cantina, and is above average.  Although we did not eat there on Saturday night, I have eaten there previously, and was pleased with the quality of the food.

Passing along the dining room, the corridor snakes past the restrooms and up the stairs to the exterior section of the establishment.  The entire outdoor section is surrounded by high wooden fences; a good idea since it is surrounded by busy roads.  In two of the corners sit small bars that offer everything the interior bar has plus frozen margaritas.  The margarita machines sit on top of the bar, three total on top of each bar, each offering a different flavor.

The outdoor area offers a place where patrons can stand and enjoy their drinks, or a seated area with tables that wrap along the fences.  The atmosphere is also a pleasant loudness, with patrons talking, laughing and having a good time.  We decided to grab a table, and ordered some more Tecates and chips and salsa.  Nothing needs to be said about the Tecates, as they are always great.  Similarly, the chips and the service need to be mentioned, for how good they were as well.  The server was checking on us consistently, and was very polite.  The chips were also very good, as they were deep fried and unlike chips encountered at other Mexican restaraunts.  And although I am not a big fan of deep fried anything, these chips were good.  Not to be forgotten, the salsa was nice and spicy, however its consistency could have been a bit thicker.

After filling up on drinks, chips and the atmosphere of the Cantina, we decided to call it a night.  We definitely had a good time, and would definitely visit the place again.  Next time we go, we would like to get there earlier, so we can order some food and make a night out of it.  Overall: I would recommend it.  Based on everything - including prices - I would give it 4.5 Irons out of a possible 6.

Side Note:  The age of most of the patrons was 25 - 45; mode being around 31.  While a younger crowd would enjoy themselves, it is more for the age range mentioned.

The Round Corner Cantina is available on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Burgh Verified!

On August 4, 2011, The Blast Furnace was officially "Burgh Verified" by BoringPittsburgh.com.  So, what does this mean?  Well, The Blast Furnace has been welcomed into the Pittsburgh cyber community.  We are now able to use the ✔ *Burgh Verified* tag in our twitter profile and have been recognized on the Master List of Burgh Verified Official Members.  The Blast Furnace is listed among the pantheon of Pittsburgh bloggers, tweeters, businesses, institutions, and celebrities such as Souf Oaklin fo' Life, McGinnis Sisters, Turners Premium Tea, PghLesbian24, and Troy Polamalu.

How does one get verified you ask?  First, one must follow @BoringPGH on twitter and nominate yourself with a tweet about your interest in becoming Burgh Verified.  The Boring Pittsburgh committee then votes on membership.  The Blast Furnace had the arduous task of lobbying the committee for access into this exclusive community.  After minutes of deliberation, Boring Pittsburgh bestowed the honor of Burgh Verification to The Blast Furnace.  The tweet that I believe put us over the top:  @pghblastfurnace Batman watch in full force. did they dig up all these "security guards" from Diesel? bunch a jags , which they promptly retweeted to their 4,618 followers.

Some of the benefits of being "Burgh Verified" is placement on their master list and eligibility for fun games and other special stuff on BoringPittsburgh.com.  This also could increase our followers on twitter, facebook, and the blog.  T-shirts are also available, but seem somewhat difficult to obtain.  T-shirts would fit perfectly on the backs of  Blast Furnace contributors.

It is comforting to know that former Pirates backup 1B and Baseball Tonight analyst Orestes Destrade's handsome profile will be listed alongside of Pittsburgh's finest 140 charactersmiths.  Special thanks goes out to The Blast Furnace contributors and followers, BoringPittsburgh.com, and Gibbons Beer for making this possible.  We are very excited for this new opportunity to spread our good word.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Shark Week Finds Victims Dahn On 'Da Mon

It is hard to miss a facebook posting or commercial hyping up one of the most anticipated week long events in nature TV known as Shark Week. In honor of this week Pittsburgh had the luxury of finding it's own sharks swimming through the Monongahela River, but these were not your average sharks, they were the business sharks of Sandcastle Water Park. That's right, just when you thought Sandcastle was all fun and games, Danille Sullenberger was practically eaten alive by the new policies of the water park and a WTAE Call for Action was in store for the Sullenberger family.

WTAE's Wendy Bell was sent to the scene where she was able to uncover the preposterous changes to the Blue Tubaluba. Apparently, Sandcastle decided to make height safety changes to the Blue Tubaluba, which is the favorite ride of Sullenberger's daughter, Paige. The height was changed from 36" when riding with a parent to 48" for all riders as per the manufacturer's recommendation. Aghast at this change Paige began to cry and the Sullenberger's were forced to take action against Sandcastle for upsetting their daughter. Luckily, Wendy Bell was able to be the hero for Sullenberger's as she was able to persuade Sandcatle to donate a cabana, a waiter, and pizza in order to make up for the new policy upsetting the family.

It was either a slow news day or society has really become pathetic that people are more concerned with getting their own way over their childrens' safety. I really don't know which is worse: the fact that the Sullenbergers complained, that WTAE actually sent someone to cover the 'story,' or that Sandcastle gave in and provided them with first class extra services. This just goes to show the fools get the reward while rational people get the shaft.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Screw you, Penn American Water

From today's Post-Gazette, a huge water main break has sunk storage levels of water and residents of the South Communities, my home in Dormont included, are being asked to conserve water.

The incident itself isn't worth getting that upset about, it happens. However, I can see where this is heading. I've dealt with Penn-American before and can tell you the results aren't pretty.

At my old apartment, I randomly got hit with a $1,400 water bill. After calling to try to get the obvious mistake fixed, I got told that I can't just decide I don't want to pay a bill. This lead to months of complaining, being passed around to different departments, and generally being jerked around in hopes I'd give in. Eventually, I did get the matter resolved, but I can tell you that it wasn't easy.

It was very shortly thereafter that we all got hit with rate increases. When one of the public utilities decides to raise rates, they need to inform their customers and ask for public feedback. I wrote a letter about how they should focus more on being more efficient with internal processes before asking the consumer to fund their incompetence, but, of course, it did no good.

Another incident related to them happened just in the past few weeks. I was walking my dog in my neighborhood when I saw water streaming steadily out of one of those water caps in the road. Trying to be helpful, I called them to let them know about it. First off, it took considerable effort and time just to navigate the phone system to get someone on the line who could help me with this. It was obvious that the person's phone script didn't include how to deal with a situation like this, because she kept asking me for information like account numbers, despite the fact that this had nothing to do with my account or my house.

I didn't see anyone come to do anything about the leak for a few days. Then the problem just re-occurred one cap down the road, which also continued for at least a full day before being addressed.

When you consider the who knows how many gallons of water being lost in my neighborhood plus anywhere else this is happening, plus what must have been a huge loss of water today, I'm sure Penn-American has lost a pretty penny. But you can be sure it won't be them who ends up paying for that water, it'll be us when our rates get raised yet again and there won't be anything any of us will be able to do about it.

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Best of Beer Camp

I'm a little behind on my beer reviews, as I finished up this case a couple of weeks ago already.

I picked up a case of Sierra Nevada's Best of Beer Camp, 2011 edition on the recommendation of the woman who works at Colonial Beer in the Hillcrest Shopping Center on Library Road in Bethel Park. She's fantastic by the way. If you're ever looking for something good and want some advice, I'd go talk to her. She's probably around 50 or so with reddish hair and knows her stuff.

For a little background, the case features four beers that were made at Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp at their brewery in Chico, California. The Beer Camps are for beer enthusiasts who enter to win a few days at the brewery to develop a beer under the tutelage of Sierra Nevada's brewers. Their site shows almost 50 beers that have been created at Beer Camp thus far, with this case being the first time they've made a selection available commercially.

At $40 a case, the beer camp variety pack was the most expensive case I've ever bought. Although, with all of the beers checking in at 6.5% alcohol or greater, you don't need to drink much of it to start feeling the effects. In short, you can make the case last longer than a cheaper case, so the cost can be justified.

The four beers in the case are the California Common, the Weizenbock, the Double IPA and the Juniper Black.

The California Common is the same type of beer as Anchor Steam. It was the lightest of and most accessible of the case. It was slightly sweet, slightly hoppy and probably the least remarkable.

The Weizenbock was interesting. I typically am just lukewarm on wheat beers and I wouldn't say that this one blew my socks off or anything. But, it was very smooth with a very subtle, almost banana-y flavor. Very good.

The Double IPA was a very nice IPA. I'm not sure what makes it double, it wasn't like one of those hop monster beers. Simultaneously hoppy and malty, this one was great.

Finally, the Juniper Black was the star of the case, if you ask me. It's a very dark, malty beer, though not heavy. And, unlike most fruit beers, which I normally despise for being way too fruity, you could barely even notice the juniper berries.

All in all, this was just a fantastic case of beer. Each one was strong, unique and better than the average of its type. It might not be the best case of beer I've ever had, but it's up there. And, knowing where it came from, it was perhaps the most satisfying case I've ever bought. I would gladly spend $40 again on the next iteration in 2012 and recommend going out and tracking down a case before they're gone.